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Interest rates soar in Sheffield

For nearly five years, Supporting People Into Employment and Lifelong Learning, (Spell) a community-run organisation, has been helping people in a deprived area of north Sheffield back into work, education and training.

At least once a year, pairs of recruitment workers knock on the doors of some 40,000 households, asking people about their past and present education and what type of employment they might be interested in.

Should 10 or more people be interested in a subject, then courses are laid on by local learning providers in church halls or community centres. Such activities have included card-making, IT training, painting and arts and crafts.

Some 4,000 people have been entered into Spell's database over the years.

Lorraine Snape, its operations manager, says the intention is to try to make statutory providers, such as colleges, more responsive to local need and build the appetite for learning in the community so that eventually people are confident enough to return to college.

Spell operates a drop-in centre in a shop on a housing estate and has 36 employees advising people on how to get back into employment, acquire basic skills and the opportunities for community learning.

Non-vocational community learning, she adds, is a good way of re-engaging those who have not been involved in education or training for a long time.

More recently, Spell has started to lay on its own accredited courses in IT, confidence-building, preparation for work, CV writing and mock interviews. Ms Snape says that this process really needs to receive direct funding.

"Community learning is a vital first step," she says. "Then it becomes easier to talk to people about further training or employment options, but without that initial engagement it would be difficult."

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